(left: directors Scott Hicks and Kim McKenzie).

A young photographer Simon Jess (David Cameron) is given an assignment to shoot some backgrounds for a fashion display in the Snowy Mountains.

Reluctantly he heads off to the mountains, leaving behind his girlfriend Sara (Penne Hackforth-Jones) and a comfortable Adelaide lifestyle. He takes a half-hearted interest in the mountain ski resort social life, but then becomes interested in a falcon, and pursues the bird with his camera ...

The speed of the bird when it dives on its prey makes the task difficult, and Simon becomes obsessed with capturing the dive and ascending a mountain to the falcon's nest...

Writers:
Exec producers:
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Composers:
Editors:

Production Details

Production company: Chrysalis Films

Budget: $22,000, mostly from the Film, Radio and Television Board of the Australia Council (Oxford Australian); some databases (State Library SA) put the figure as low as $2,000, but this is wrong.

Locations: Mount Kosciusko region, Adelaide hills

Filmed: 1974-75

Australian distributor: self-distributed

Australian release: 28th August, 1975 Adelaide

16mm        colour  

Running time: 70 mins (Oxford Australian Film) 67 minutes (State Library SA), 67 mins 9 secs, 2,308 feet (NLA)

Box office: minimal. The film was never commercially distributed, and was rarely seen after its initial screenings in Adelaide.

 

Opinion

Awards

None known.

Availability

Not known outside the archive.

The NSFA lists preservation material and access video tapes here.

The State Library of South Australia seems to have a VHS copy, struck in 2000. It is listed here, and Trove here reports it is the only copy in the library system.

1. Source:

Director Hicks and McKenzie had previously worked together on a c. 58 minute short feature, The Wanderer, made more as a student exercise with ambitions than as a commercial proposition. 

The film won an award for the best South Australian film at the Adelaide International Film Festival, though to be fair, there wasn't much competition in this category at the time.

They would work together for a second and last time on the self-devised Down the Wind, which reflected McKenzie's interest in wildlife photography and Hicks' interest in drama.

As noted by the Oxford Australian Film, the title for 'Down the Wind' comes from the sport of falconry, as does the lead character's name Jess.

When hawks or falcons are released to hunt, they are sent upwind and when turned loose for recreation, they are sent downwind. Thus, to 'whistle someone/thing down the wind' is to cast it off to its own fate. Shakespeare alluded to this in Othello, 1604:

If I do prove her haggard,

Though that her jesses (leather straps) were my dear heartstrings,

I'ld whistle her off and let her down the wind,

To pray at fortune.

(This is also referenced in the title for the British feature film Whistle Down the Wind).

2. Production:

As might be expected from the budget, the film was made extremely cheaply, with everybody involved doing it for minimal wages.

The result is little better than a student production, with lengthy shots of a falcon in flight and in the wild, interposed with relatively inert personal drama.

The main character's obsession with filming peregrine falcons reflects DOP Kim McKenzie's own interest in filming wildlife and in nature photography at the time. One of the challenging aspects of filming peregrines is the speed at which they dive - while the film suggests it might be as much as 185 miles an hour, peregrine falcons have been measured in a dive at 242 mph (389 kim/h), while speeds over 200 miles per hour are relatively common.

3. Release:

The film received only a limited release, perhaps because it failed to join together the two strands - McKenzie's interest in wild-life photograhy wasn't integrated into the drama (though this could be put vice versa, that the drama failed to make dramatic the interesting subject of a wild-life obsessed photographer).

Kim McKenzie, who went on to join the film unit of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies in Canberra, later made a number of interesting ethnographic films, perhaps most notably Waiting for Harry in 1980, in which he shared creative responsibility with Frank Gurrmanamana and which also featured noted anthropologist Les Hiatt. (In his later academic career at the ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, McKenzie would adopt the more formal first name Kenneth).

Hicks went on to become an assistant director, and music video and sponsored documentary film-maker, with several indifferent feature films (Sebastian and the Sparrow, Freedom) and a rarely seen, suppressed telemovie (Call Me Mr Brown), and a number of documentary specials (including one on submarines, Sharks of Steel) before making the breakthrough hit Shine.

When this film was made, both Hicks and McKenzie were in their early twenties, and both had recently graduated from the Drama Department at Flinders University in Adelaide.

Their first film together, The Wanderer, was also rarely seen after its festival screening, though its theme, a man torn between university and life on the road, prefigures Down the Wind, and it also featured two of the same cast - Ross Thompson and Penne Hackforth-Jones.

Only Hicks or McKenzie specialists will see the need to visit the national film archive or the State Library of South Australia to seek out this film, which, while being listed in the Oxford Australian Film, is in reality best seen as a work of juvenilia and as training for later, more interesting productions.

(Disclosure: subsequent to the filming of this project, an editor at this site began working for the production company, Chrysalis Films, but had no involvement in the production of this film).